This past Monday I wrote on the origin of sin, today I’ll focus on the character of sin. When speaking of the character of something we’re usually referring to the essential qualities of a thing. For example, one essential quality of all good cheeseburgers is grease. Without it, they may be healthier, but they sure aren’t as good. This is obvious isn’t it? It’s a fact that all people who have eaten a few cheeseburgers understand. When it comes to sin, there is an equally obvious statement I can say: sin is nasty, literally nasty. This is as obvious as 1+1=2.
Throughout the history of the Church many have tried to describe the sinfulness of sin and have done so with terrifying clarity. Over the course of my reading I’ve gleaned two prominent things about sin: it is total, and it is moral.
One of the results of the fall was that man is now totally depraved. To say we are totally depraved is not to say we are utterly depraved. We are not as bad as we could be (even Hitler didn’t kill his own mother), but the fall of man affected the totality of man. No faculty within man was left untouched or unchanged by the fall of man. Our hearts are bent on rebellion against God, our wills prefer evil to righteousness, and our bodies wear out. This is why people get dementia, cancer, colds, and all other diseases that war against the body. So to say sin is total is to say it totally wrecks us spiritually and physically. Romans 3:10-18 is a good place to see this clearly.
Many people speak of evil these days, evil things that happen in the world, and evil things that happen to people. The one word people shy away from using in most of these instances is the word ‘moral.’ Because to use the word moral is to refer to a standard that all men must abide by, and since we live in a culture where the reality of an objective moral standard is rejected, the word ‘moral’ has lost much of its sway. But when it comes to God and His Word, we must see that sin is a moral evil. Scripture speaks of us missing the mark which implies there is a right way or path to seek and go down. Scripture speaks of us preferring darkness to light and rejecting God for our own desires, seeking to get out from under His authority. The Bible calls this unfaithfulness. This implies that embracing light over darkness, and obeying God over our desires is faithfulness. To be faithful or unfaithful are words that only exist in moral categories. This means the Bible speaks of sin in such a way as to show it’s ethical nature, and shows how life can lived rightly and wrongly.
We too often think of man’s problem as something done to us that requires an inner solution, when the Bible speaks of man’s problem in terms of something we’ve done that requires the solution of another. We have deliberately chosen to disobey God and follow what we think is better. Man is never passive in sin, we don’t fall into sin, we sin because we want to, and because of this intentionality we held responsible for our active opposition to God. This brings guilt, and guilt is a word (again) that only exists and functions in a moral context.
To the degree we lessen the sinfulness of sin, to that degree we lessen graciousness of God’s grace, until we begin to see all man as more or less good people. This is wrong, sin is not a lesser degree of good, but a moral evil. We’re either on the right side or the wrong side.